Greetings. Allow myself to introduce…myself, my name is David Rothman, I’m a straight ally, and I’m an intern here at DC Metro PFLAG. I was placed here by the Master of Social Work program at George Mason University for my concentration year field placement. My concentration is ‘social change’, so PFLAG is the perfect match for me, as we have a history of doing advocacy work in local schools, businesses, and for individuals. I wish to continue that fine tradition during my tenure here.
I grew up in Loudoun County, VA and attended public schools there from K-12; I graduated from Potomac Falls High School in 2003. I don’t recall hearing much about GLBT issues at all in the curriculum. There was a Gay-Straight Alliance in my high school, but I knew almost nothing about it. In the hallways, kids would call each other the f-word, and utter “that’s so gay” as a synonym for stupid (a bad habit many of us straight allies, including myself, need to learn to cut from our vocabulary). I recall a question posed in philosophy class, “should gay couples be allowed to adopt children?”. A classmate (a known bully who often called other students the f-word) answered “no, because that kid would have a hard time growing up because other kids would make fun of him/her for having gay parents”. In my rebuttal, I said “so we should ban gay couples from adopting because of kids like you who would bully them? No, you’re the problem, not gay couples”. And thus, a straight ally was born. I probably could’ve been more diplomatic, but I never liked that kid anyway.
While I’d like to think I was very enlightened for a straight kid out of suburbia, I still had a long way to go. I thought that gays and lesbians chose to love other men/other women. Not that it mattered to me, as I thought “well if a dude chooses to love another dude, that’s their business and that’s cool with me”. However I had to learn from outside sources that sexual orientation is something one is born with. I did not wake up one day and said “gee, I think I’ll choose to be attracted to girls”. When I realized that, it was profound. And I should have learned that from my public education, and so should every other student in public school.
The now-national issue of homophobic bullying is disturbing to say the least. The seven recent suicides of GLBT students are especially tragic, especially in this day and age when it’s accepted that this younger generation in school now are more accepting of GLBT people than previous generations. It goes to show that we cannot be complacent, and there is still plenty of work to be done. Are we pushing a “radical homosexual agenda” to borrow a phrase from Andrew Shirvell? No, we just want to make sure GLBT students are protected just like any other student. No student needs to be bullied literally to death. According the GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey:
Students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.
From that, our course of action becomes clear. Although the problem is nation-wide, we can make a difference by acting locally. We need to contact our local school boards to make sure that GLBT students are protected by anti-bullying policy. This means including gender identity and sexual orientation in the language of the policy. We need to make sure teachers and other school staff are trained to recognize and stop homophobic remarks or bullying when they see it. This aspect is especially important as we’ve learned that in some of these suicide cases, teachers often let phrases like “that’s so gay” or the f-bomb fly in their classrooms. We need to promote the growth of Gay-Straight Alliances in our schools, which provide a safe haven and an invaluable resource for GLBT students. And last but not least important, students need accurate information about GLBT people and GLBT issues included in the curriculums. Myths about sexual “preference” and “conversion/reparative therapies” (which have been discredited by nearly every professional mental health bodies) need to be exposed for what they are.
So I offer a call to arms to all our members, parents, advocates, and concerned citizens: let’s work to change the bullying policies in our local schools. Let’s work to make sure kids are getting accurate information about GLBT persons. Let’s work to protect all GLBT students. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you are able and willing to participate. From there, we’ll set up a meeting with all willing participants to discuss our options and to form an action plan. And then we act.
David the Intern